On business dress

I love the trend toward eradicating “business dress” in the workplace. Is it really so bad to see everyone at work in t-shirts and flipflops? Casual dress in the workplace signals freedom and organizational confidence and acts as a cheap benefit to the employees. Casual dress should really be called personal address since it means you can wear almost anything you please.

When the “boss” looks the same as everyone else it strengthens team unity and openness, even if, in reality, the ultimate authority is clear. The suit is becoming the symbol of the salesman. The smirking slave collar of the old corporate world. It represents the triumph of ostentation over substance, appearance over reality, marketing showmanship over solid product development.

When you dress casual, you cannot rely on the impact of your wardrobe. Your ideas and work must speak for you. When you dress casual you cannot hide your humble human qualities, like the slope of your shoulders or your out-of-shape body. For better or worse, you are what you are.

On the flip side, it’s hilarious to see formerly suited types desperately following current fashions. In a recent issue of Business Week, there was an article featuring some ridiculous venture capitalist dressed-down in two-hundred dollar jeans, an untucked club shirt, and expensive slip-on loafers that try to look both expensive and shabby at the same time. It just seemed so over-thought and self-conscious, which is the opposite of the casual dress approach.

If you work face to face with customers, a case might be made for looking a certain way. However, I’m sure we’ve all seen examples of how corporate uniforms are subverted with tokens of individuality like buttons, wallet chains, watches, tattoos, or strange hair configurations. In some ways, the bleeding through of the individual makes the corporate uniform even more ridiculous and belies the controlling need to systemize everything down to the most inconsequential detail. That too seems desperate and self-conscious.

In requiring stringent dress codes, we ask employees to cede personal freedom to their employers, so great care should be taken when dictating appearances.

In the end, the corporate need for systems and the growing individuality of culture will harmonize. Workers will gradually take on more responsibility for their incomes and lives until we approach a Free Agent World and employers will adopt more casual relationships, which may lead to true partnership between employees and management.

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